Before settling in to hear from representatives of local agencies pulling for the construction of the California High-Speed Rail (HSR) project, the Hanford City Council got an earful of local opinion on the matter from both sides.
The HSR project includes a 27-mile stretch through Kings County and has met with some vocal resistance locally, including a lawsuit brought by the Kings County Board of Supervisors. At a study session held July 21, the City Council met to gather information from experts and to hear what residents had to say. The meeting was planned ahead of an upcoming vote to decide whether the city should commit $200,000 in matching funds in order to receive $600,000 from state and federal sources that would allow city agencies to plan for the local HSR stop. The city would also incur some $50,000 in office costs should it accept the grant.
Strong feelings on HSR
Emotions ran high among those who addressed the council at the meeting’s start. Glenda Dwyer, a strong opponent of the project, framed the HSR project as a criminal enterprise, calling it “a lie.”
“You’re going to be complicit,” she told those gathered at the session, “going against the constitution, going against the republic, if you decide to go with these people.”
On the other side, Brad Johns, a local rancher who will see the HSR cross his land, named the Board of Supervisors a “rogue” organization as he condemned it for its opposition to the project. He cited the HSR Authority’s use of local contractors and excellent communication as signs of its goodwill.
“High-Speed Rail has been nothing but thoughtful,” he said of his dealings with the agency.
He encouraged the Hanford City Council to become fully involved in the project as soon as it can in order to have a voice as the project is realized.
“It’s time to enter the discussion and take a seat at the table,” Johns told the council.
Too early to plan?
Aaron Fakuda, co-chair of Citizens for California High-Speed Rail Accountability, questioned the timing of the decision, asking whether it was too early to begin planning when the project was still being revised.
“I don’t know why immediately there’s a need to apply for a planning grant,” he said.
Fakuda also cited uncertain funding and questioned the placement of the local rail stop. That, along with ongoing revisions to the plan, would make any preparations by the city dubious, he said.
“I don’t know how you put together a plan when you don’t know what you’re planning for,” Fakuda said. “Maybe there’s a need to plan; maybe there’s not.”
Construction of the first phase is already underway in Madera County. Phase 2-3, which extends between Fresno and Kern counties and includes the Kings County segment, is expected to commence in the near future, according to Diana Gomez, regional director for the HSR Project in the Central Valley. Her agency has already acquired about 10% of the right-of-ways needed to complete Phase 2-3.
The cities of Fresno, Bakersfield and Madera have already made grant applications. The grants are intended to allow local agencies to assess impacts the HSR project will have on the local economy and infrastructure, allowing them to mitigate any negative effects.
Envisioning the HSR
State officials on hand for the study session included Gomez and Melissa DuMont, CHSRA’s director of planning and integration, who fielded questions from the council. Prompted by a question about what the grant would pay for, DuMont told the council the $800,000 would allow Hanford to solidify its vision for the area around the station’s proposed location east of the city.
“The purpose of the stationary planning effort is for the community to come together about all the elements around the station they think are important,” she said.
The location of the Kings County station has not yet been made final. A station will be located in the county, Gomez said, whether city officials decide to participate in its planning or not. The grant offered is intended to allow Hanford to decide the nature of land use in the area surrounding it.
“You can think about what you want to use the land for,” DuMont said.
Other Agencies Could Share Cost
While the council worried $200,000 was a significant amount for the city to expend, a representative of the Tulare County Association of Governments said Tulare County and Visalia may pay one-half of that cost. That decision could come in September, depending on whether Hanford chooses to pursue the grant. Also on hand for the discussion were representatives from NAS Lemoore and Visalia City Hall.
“If the project does happen, we could come to try and partner with Hanford and the Kings County communities to bring the station to fruition,” said Visalia City Manager Mike Olmos. “We’re willing to partner with you and with TCAG.”
Kings County Administrative Officer Larry Spikes was on hand to reiterate the county’s objections to the HSR. He began by saying he thought those at the county thought the city shared its concerns.
“I thought we were on the same page,” he said.
The county feels the placement of the station outside the city limits would not benefit the city, perhaps even drawing business away from the Amtrak station. There are also concerns the HSR will never be constructed and that money is not available to finish construction of the line.
Gomez said the station will be open by 2022 and funding has been identified for its operation.
The July 21 meeting was a study session only. The council was scheduled to make its decision on pursuing a planning grant at its meeting this week.
Motels Get Coffee
In a separate action, the council split 3-2 on allowing changes to the city’s zoning ordinances regarding motels and medical offices. Vice Mayor David Ayers and Councilman Francisco Ramirez cast the dissenting votes. The changes will go into effect 30 days from the vote on July 21.
The current zoning laws do not allow motels to offer their guests in-room coffee or microwaves, a restriction those operating them complain limits their business. Also removed by the vote is the requirement for a special-use permit to operate large medical offices in the downtown zone.
City Gives Itself a Loan
Also back up for reconsideration were a pair of resolutions to make inter-fund loans to repay impact fees for the development of the Costco Shopping Center on East Lacey Boulevard and to fund moving the road to avoid heavier traffic from impacting the Highway 43 on-ramps.
The plan was originally brought to the council at its July 7 meeting; however, the complex issue elicited a 2-2 split deadlock, forcing the city to reconsider the issue at its latest meeting. With initial confusion laid to rest, the council voted unanimously to approve the loan and move forward on the project.